In the tradition of modern fairy tales like Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver comes an immersive fantasy saga, a debut novel about estranged siblings who are reunited after receiving a mysterious inheritance.
“A wonderfully imaginative, wholly enchanting novel of witness, survival, memory, and family that reads like a fairy tale godfathered by Neil Gaiman and Tim Burton in a wild America alive with wonders and devils alike. Thistlefootshimmers with magic and mayhem and a thrilling emotional momentum.” —Libba Bray, bestselling author of The Diviners
The Yaga siblings—Bellatine, a young woodworker, and Isaac, a wayfaring street performer and con artist—have been estranged since childhood, separated both by resentment and by wide miles of American highway. But when they learn that they are to receive an inheritance, the siblings agree to meet—only to discover that their bequest isn’t land or money, but something far stranger: a sentient house on chicken legs.
Thistlefoot, as the house is called, has arrived from the Yagas’ ancestral home outside Kyiv—but not alone. A sinister figure known only as the Longshadow Man has tracked it to American shores, bearing with him violent secrets from the past: fiery memories that have hidden in Isaac and Bellatine’s blood for generations. As the Yaga siblings embark with Thistlefoot on a final cross-country tour of their family’s traveling theater show, the Longshadow Man follows in relentless pursuit, seeding destruction in his wake. Ultimately, time, magic, and legacy must collide—erupting in a powerful conflagration to determine who gets to remember the past and craft a new future.
An enchanted adventure illuminated by Jewish myth and adorned with lyrical prose as tantalizing and sweet as briar berries, Thistlefoot is a sweeping epic rich in Eastern European folklore: a powerful and poignant exploration of healing from multi-generational trauma told by a bold new talent.
What’s it about (in a nutshell):
Thistlefoot is a story about Baba Yaga and her magical house named Thistlefoot. The story starts and ends with Baba Yaga’s descendants, Bellatine and Isaac, who inherited her home (shipped to them in the US). Still, in between their story, the reader learns more about Baba Yaga and how the house came to be.
Initial Expectations (before beginning the book):
I know a little about the lore of Baba Yaga and her house that moves on chicken legs but only a little. I look forward to delving deeper into this mythical character and her magic.
Actual Reading Experience:
I loved the fairy tale quality of this story. Not the happily ever after type of fairytale that Disney has made famous but the darker original Grimm’s version. It’s a pretty dense read, as Grimm’s fairy tales are, and it is very dark and poignant, but it has that lessons learned aspect along with myth and magic. The poignant parts of Baba Yaga’s story were unexpected. Still, it gave the tale depth and layers that create a resonance in the reader, and I, for one, will not soon forget it.
The writing is just beautiful. It immediately pulls you in, and even though the pace is relatively slow, it keeps the pages flipping because I wanted to know more about Baba Yaga and her heirs. The writing also reflects the emotions so well that the pain is not just read about; it is felt by the reader fully and completely.
The magic is fascinating. Much more dark, gritty, and natural than I expected. Baba Yaga is considered a witch of sorts. If anything, she practices old-world witchcraft, wholly grounded in nature and the natural order of things. There are also magical realism elements that are equally as powerful as the magic practiced.
None of the characters are particularly likable or relatable. Still, they have a quality that keeps you wanting to know more about them. They are well-developed with layers upon layers of complexities that add to the tale’s poignancy.
Bellatine Yaga is the younger of the siblings. She likes to work with her hands, particularly woodworking, and she has the magical ability to bring inanimate objects and the dead to life.
Isaac Yaga is the older sibling of the two. He has the magical ability to copy and become anyone. Still, he doesn’t believe magic has anything to do with it and thinks he is just that good of an actor.
Thistlefoot is a home that is sentient and moves around on chicken legs. He belonged to Baba Yaga and was shipped to the United States into the care of Bellatine and Isaac Yaga seventy years after Baba’s death, as she stipulated in her will.
Narration & Pacing:
The narration is in third person for the story in the present-day timeline. This story follows the siblings and their adventures with their new house, Thistlefoot. This is interspersed with chapters in first-person narration told by Thistlefoot. He recounts his and Baba Yaga’s story before he came to be. The personal first-person narration works perfectly for Thistlefoot as it makes Baba Yaga’s story much more impactful and personal.
The pacing is a mixed bag. Thistlefoot’s first-person account of the past reads very quickly. Still, the third-person telling of the siblings’ journey is denser and naturally reads a bit slower. I must admit that the denser areas in the book moved so slowly that I lost focus from time to time.
The setting in the storylines that follows the two siblings is the current-day United States. They go all over the country in their moving house, so there is not one geographical setting. The house is more the setting of note, used so exquisitely and magically because it is as much of a character as it is a setting.
When the house explains Baba Yaga’s story and the story of its creation, all of that takes place in a small Jewish village in Russia around 100 years ago. The cold of this village is a poignant reflection of the cold and ruthless events that unfold. I loved that the setting is a direct reflection of the events.
To Read or Not to Read:
If you want to experience an evocative and poignant modern fairy tale, Thistlefoot is a story you won’t want to miss.
Overall Rating: (4.4) ⭐⭐⭐⭐💫
- Originality: (5) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
- Writing Quality: (5) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
- Pace: (2.5) ⭐⭐💫
- Character Development: (5) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
- ‘Couldn’t Put It Down’-ness: (4) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
- World-Building & Use of Setting: (5) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐